Rep. Mike Thompson saw firsthand last weekend conditions in an overcrowded Texas migrant detention center along the Mexico border and concluded that death row prisoners receive better treatment than the detainees.
He saw people in various holding areas who slept on concrete floors using silver, aluminized Mylar blankets. He saw a holding cell with 20 to 30 men that was standing room only, the toilet behind a half-wall of cinder block. Some detainees must go 20 days without a shower.
“The places are in bad shape,” Thompson said from Washington, D.C. in a phone interview. “People are living in an area no one should be forced to live in. It’s overcrowded. It’s a breeding ground for illness and disease. There’s nothing pretty about this.”
Thompson, D-St. Helena, toured a McAllen facility and the Brownsville port-of-entry on Saturday with a Congressional delegation of about 20. Central American families fleeing their countries have come to the U.S. in large numbers this year and been housed in detention centers not designed to handle the influx.
A $4.6 billion border aid bill passed by Congress in late June will help improve conditions for detainees, Thompson said.
“It was critical money, everything from funding to ensure the safety and well-being of the kids to legal services, case management,” he said.
Thompson wasn’t certain when the aid money will make a significant difference at the detention facility he toured. But he expressed frustration with the pace.
During the 2015 Valley Fire in Lake County, the Napa County Fairgrounds evacuation center in Calistoga needed portable showers and they arrived within 48 hours, Thompson said. He was told portable showers are coming to McAllen in two to three weeks, he said.
Vice President Mike Pence traveled to McAllen on Friday to see detention facility conditions. He told reporters, “Look, this is tough stuff,” that the system is overwhelmed and Congress needs to take further actions.
“If he saw what we saw, he can’t even come close to saying it is OK,” Thompson said.
President Donald Trump on July 3 tweeted, “Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions. No matter how good things actually look, even if perfect, the Democrat visitors will act shocked & aghast at how terrible things are.”
“He’s talking out of his ear,” Thompson said. “He has no idea what he’s talking about.”
A number of bills in Congress will be coming forward to do more to deal with the border issues, Thompson said. Asked how he thinks Trump will receive them, he quickly answered.
“If he would stop tweeting and start focusing on the problems we have in the country, rather that tweeting his racist remarks, we’d be further ahead of the curve,” Thompson said.
The nation needs to provide the necessary resources to run the detention facilities in a safe and humane manner, Thompson said. It also needs to look at the root of the problem, which is where the migrants are coming from and why they are fleeing.
One takeaway from the Saturday tour is that the Border Patrol does a great job patrolling the border, Thompson said. At the port-of-entry, he saw agents detain an automobile that had cocaine in the gas tank.
But the Border Patrol is not a health and human services agency. It is out of its depth dealing with the situation at the detention facilities, Thompson said.